Overuse of alcohol among older adults is a mostly hidden story – for instance, National Drug and Alcohol Awareness Week (March 22-28 in 2021) is aimed at teens. However, research suggests that one third of older drinkers develop the dependency later in life and that was before Covid-related stress and isolation.
How much drinking is too much? What can be done about it? One of our contributors had a frank (and anonymous) discussion with one older woman about her issues with alcohol – developed late in life – and how she addressed them; this story is verbatum, as told to May Linton:
“I was on my back on the floor. I hadn’t hurt myself, so I presume that I oozed down slowly instead of falling – splat! – to the hard surface. A half-empty bottle of Jack Daniels was on the table. It was unopened at 8:00 pm, so it was obvious how I had ended up on the floor in the wee hours.
“How did it ever come to this?”
“My parents didn’t drink. My mother hated the taste; my father simply wasn’t interested. I wasn’t interested either until my early 30s. Even then I drank only to relieve pain from a medical condition. Like my mother, I disliked the taste.
“But gradually things changed. By my 40s, I liked the buzz. In my 50s, I also liked the taste…and by my mid-60s, there were periods when I drank too much. Because I live alone, no one knew how much I was drinking. But I knew. And I started looking for help.
“Because I live alone, no one really knew how much I was drinking.”
Looking for help
“First stop was Alcoholic Anonymous (AA). While it makes a difference for many, it didn’t work for me. The people “in the rooms” were either abstinent or were struggling to be. I wasn’t an alcoholic and I didn’t want to quit; I just wanted to drink less.
“The desire to moderate led me to a weekly women’s Moderation Management (MM) meeting (https://moderation.org). I relished MM’s accountability focus (“Did you keep to two drinks at that party?”), the camaraderie, and fact that I could drink – albeit with an eye toward moderation. In fact, I did cut back.
“Then the lockdown struck…”
“In-person MM gatherings were replaced by less satisfactory Zoom meetings. Worse, the topic seemed always to be how we were moderating under lockdown. The truth? I wasn’t doing well at all – which is why I found myself on the floor at 3:00 am gazing balefully at the half-empty whisky bottle.
Could this approach work?
“Somehow, I had stumbled across www.ThisNakedMind.com website. Annie Grace, the creator, had been a daily two-bottles-a-day wine drinker. By researching how the brain works, she developed a neuroscience-based program that, if followed, promises to interrupt one’s habits around alcohol.
“I had been reading Grace’s emails for almost two years. Mindful that alcohol use is constantly reinforced through advertising, socializing and habits surrounding it, I was finally willing to sign up for Grace’s 30 Days Alcohol Experiment. I paid $47 but didn’t have to: There’s a free version (https://learn.thisnakedmind.com/the-alcohol-experiment-registration).
“A first assignment: Write two lists: Things I liked and things I didn’t like about drinking. I came up with only two things that I liked – the buzz and convivial socializing – and more than ten things I didn’t like. Eye-opening!
“At first I missed drinking.”
“Each day a short video arrived along with occasional short bonus presentations plus a daily Q&A session (taped for later listening if need be). Step-by-step, the program helped me to create different – healthy – neural pathways concerning alcohol and guided me toward patterns for handling social situations.
“At first I missed drinking. But by retraining my subconscious, alcohol began to lose its grip. To my considerable surprise, by the end of the fourth week I didn’t want to moderate: I didn’t want to drink at all!
“I did the 30 days Alcohol Experiment in November 2020 during lockdown. I’ve had wine four times since then in social situations (as of Mid-March) but otherwise, I’m substantially alcohol free.
“I relish all my alcohol-free gains…”
“Two bonuses: I’ve saved over $250 a month (alcohol is expensive!) and lost 17 pounds without trying.
“I relish all my alcohol-free gains of better sleep, waking without hangovers, and enjoying day-long energy. Because my brain is clearer, sharper and more alive, I’m productive in ways I haven’t been in decades.
“Do I miss alcohol? I’ll answer with a different question: What’s there to miss?”
This article offered by Senior Planet and Older Adults Technology Services is for informational purposes only and is not intended to substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding any medical condition. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or 911 immediately.